Barbara’s Found The Art of Making Money.
She’s got the figure of a model girl and looks to match, though her head is stuffed with the study that earned her an M.A., a degree in child psychology, and a wide and deep knowledge of the art world on both sides of the Atlantic.
Barbara Schuster is resigned now to having lofty art dealers stop at her desk and ask to see Mrs. Schuster. She gets quite a kick out of their look of disbelief If not downright disapproval when they realise she isn’t the receptionist.
“Why they think horn-rimmed gasses and thick lisle stockings make you more knowledgeable, I don’t know,” she said with despairing grin.
Barbara and her husband Eugene have just opened a new gallery at the smart end of Bond Street, right under the cloisters of the Westbury Hotel. Both of them regularly commute to America where they have other galleries and Michigan, and to all parts of Europe buying art
Yet, five years ago, they were living in a hostel on a grant and the salary commanded by nursery school teachers in this country. Eugene eked out the budget teaching art while he continued his law studies. until he got an MA in art history, his second subject, and decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer after all. Eugene received a Fulbright and after they arrived Barbara took over the nursery class at St. Clement Dane’s school.
“I loved being in the Drury lane area-but I couldn’t understand a word the kids said. They spoke in baby-talk cockney and I used to say to my assistant “What did they say? ” But she was a cockney too. I couldn’t understand her, either,” a laugh bubbled, ” But they were lovely children. I loved them, and we got to understand each other. I think they were very happy in school.”
Shortly afterwards, Barbara had a miscarriage, and some Fulbright scholars and had a lovely flat in a hostel, subsidised by the Government, offered them their flat. It was here that Joseph, her eldest son, was born, and as the hostel had a nursery, Barbara could go on teaching -this time in a hospital for very sick children. “Oh they were so ill. Sometimes I didn’t know if my children would be there next day, They were very very sick.” And, just afterwards, so was Barbara. In fact, she had such a serious operation that her parents sent them tickets to return to the States to recuperate.
“Eugene took back a few prints for friends as presents, and they said ‘How come you are buying expensive presents like this when you’re so broke?’ Eugene explained that they’d only cost about three dollars. Then my brother-in-law said that he knew they cost 10 dollars or more there. So he gave us 100 dollars to buy modern art when we got back, and that is how we got started selling.”
Actually Barbara oversimplifies the hard work that went into the early days, and the fact that if Eugene hadn’t known something about art history, his buying could have been disastrous. As it was, he knew what he was about, and in the hostel were many wealthy Commonwealth students so that Barbara suggested they started selling the prints there. Many of them could afford £5 or £10 for a print–some as much as a hundred pounds. But it wasn’t until the Royal Academy put on a Bonnard exhibition that they made the real breakthrough, “Someone said ‘Why don’t you sell Bonnard prints in the foyer? It makes more sense than the reproductions and postcards they usually sell.’ So we did, and in two days, we’d exhausted all stocks. That really put us on our feet.
After that, through a student friend who was selling prints for them at Oxford, they met a rich American student. He said: “There’s mileage in this idea. Why don’t I put up some money, you do the buying, and we share the profits?” “So that’s what we did and Billy’s still with us,” said Barbara.
By that time a second baby was on the way, and Barbara directed things from the sofa as she was quite ill. “We had two salesmen and a nanny. It was the nanny’s job to pack art,” she grinned. A lot of their success was due to a good working relationship they established with young, contemporary artists in this country. “Also, it was at the time when people were becoming more aware that they could buy art in a medium and at a price they could afford. Primarily, young people buy prints. They like graphics, and they realise that for the same price as a corny reproduction they can have the artist’s own work. They buy for the decorative value, of course, but prices appreciate as in the case of artists like Milot. Of course, there are plenty of young contemporary artists around whose work is cheap at the moment, it’s more risky, but some of them will obviously go on appreciating in value.”
Now Barbara is on her third baby, due in February, and they want to buy a film company. “We want to make documentaries about artists for colleges,” she says. She reckons that when the baby is born she deserves a month off this time.
“I think I’m slowing down,” she said unconvincingly.
Evening News, London July 22, 1969 p.9